Two coffee table books for the true classic car fanatic that will pass any snobby-guest-test

If you’re a car fanatic, it’s a safe bet you’ve got enough automotive interest books, repair manuals, and reference guides somewhere in your home to fill a whole shelf (two probably). A shelf that lurks in a back office room, garage, or basement – because choosing to display those favorites in a living room area over vases and leather-bound tomes would result in a lower spousal approval rating than greeting book club guests in an undershirt might.

(Photo slideshow of sample book page images is at end of article)

Car-related books that do make it to your coffee table probably contain heavy-gloss pages, write-ups of vintage sports cars, tales of Sir Stirling Moss racing a 1950s Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, and at least one picture of Ralph Lauren standing next to a Bugatti at a high-end car show like Amelia Island, Pebble Beach, or Watkins Glen. Excellently written, and historically significant to the subject at hand. But, like many books displayed for show, they may not actually be favorites…nor the most interesting read from cover to cover. They pass the snobby-guest-test, and that’s what matters to many.

So what’s a down-to-earth fanatic to do? I offer two classic car-related books that are a breath of fresh air for any coffee table, and have never failed to appeal to everyone I’ve ever entertained. The American Car Spotter’s Bible 1940-80 and “American Car Spotters Guide 1981-90”, both by automotive historian Tad Burness. Both are excellent reference guides that are extremely enjoyable to browse through.


Authoring over twenty-five books, California native Burness began his career in the 1960s with simpler versions of these reference guides, where each car was painstakingly drawn (by him) along with facts and anecdotes, bringing to life many great classics. I remember many of them fondly growing up in the 1970s. In more recent works, he draws from a huge selection of original brochures, books, catalogs, and advertisements to provide visual sources for each year of make and model.

Burness is a master of detail, writing in interesting footnotes about original sticker prices and engine choices without becoming tedious or boring.

Both books are arranged in alphabetical order by make, and then by chronology. Any changes from year-to-year with hubcaps, grilles, headlights, trim pieces, and more are pointed out. Burness truly does not miss a trick.

First and last years of a design run are always pointed out, and all angles of each model are shown – making it extremely easy to give yourself a first course or refresher lesson in American automotive design. Accurately finding cars family members and neighbors had during years you were growing up is a breeze.

Once either of these books is picked up, it’s hard to put them down due to sheer nostalgia value. Both books are reasonably priced and available in current print (see the links further below). Your guests will thank and respect you.



About Sean

Welcome to Classic Cars Today Online! We seek to explore the subject of classic vehicles from the 1950s through today. It is our belief that a car needn't be old to be respected and admired for graceful design, historical significance, and future value. As founder and Editor-In-Chief, I welcome contributions from you about your own car-related interests and ownership experiences. As far as myself, I've worked in the automotive service field and have been a contributor to Autoweek Magazine, The Star, Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine, and more. Currently, I'm a copywriter and own several foreign and domestic classic cars. In my spare time, you'll find me serving as Technical Editor and officer of several car clubs, being a concours car show judge, and meeting some great folks around the tri-state NY / NJ / Pennsylvania area at car shows. - Sean Connor
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